Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 499

Soto uses children to represent the hope for all people. At the beginning of the poem, the children “leap”—a joyful word, and one that describes well the buoyancy and resiliency of childhood—to the store, just as the “brown kid” leaps across the road at the end. In a larger sense, life beyond the fields is worth leaping for. While money is not the singular criterion for a satisfying life (and while oftentimes in literature money, or the pursuit of it, is equated with corruption), Soto’s poem reminds the reader of the effects of poverty. Too much money may corrupt, but sufficient funds are needed to buy the necessities of life: food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and even the ability to send children to school. Once children of migrant workers are seven or eight years old, and sometimes even earlier, they are typically no longer sent to school but are expected to work in the fields. Thus they work to earn their keep.

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The speaker has escaped life in the valley, and he and his daughter “suck roadside/ Snowcones” as they “look about.” They do not “eat,” “nibble,” or “lick” the snowcones, but “suck” them, a much more aggressive word that reflects Soto’s statement,“Worry is my daughter’s story.” Given that he, too, is eagerly consuming his snowcone, the reader notes that it remains Soto’s story as well. The family could conceivably have to go back to that way of life some day; life’s twists leave no one immune to situations that might diminish material possessions and force each person to survive rather than thrive. Thriving in the world beyond the valley means working at careers that not only meet physical needs but also nurture spiritual or intellectual needs. His daughter touches his hand, wanting the reassurance that her father, while acknowledging such a possibility, will protect her from it. She is counting on that human connection for comfort and optimism.

While the poem is autobiographical, its appeal is universal. Soto suggests others besides Hispanics who may find themselves “in the valley.” He includes the “Okies,” a reference to people from Oklahoma who were displaced by the dust storms of the 1930’s and came to California to work in the fields in hope of a better life, a plight immortalized by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath (1939). He includes the Jews who “got lost,” a reference to the wandering tribes of Israel, perhaps when they were lost in the wilderness for forty years under Moses’s leadership, or perhaps the timeless struggle of Jews around the world to find a home.

Soto paints a contemporary picture for all people. In uncertain economic times, anyone—not only Hispanics, Okies, or Jews—“could be here.” Yet all people have the possibility to attain the “Riches” that can “Happen on a red tongue,” for no matter what heritage, all people have the opportunity to savor “Sweetness,” the “red stain of laughter,” the essence of life.

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